Bean (Common) Recipes

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Bean Biodiversity

As our forbearers began to move away from being hunter-gatherers to more sedentary farmers, one of the principle issues that they needed to address was balancing their protein intake from vegetable materials.  While meat provides all of the essential amino acid building blocks needed for a healthy body, a given plant material in general does not provide complete protein.  Rather it is necessary to eat a variety of vegetables to ensure that all of the needed amino acids are present in the diet.  What our ancestors learned -- and what vegetarians today recognize as one of the basic tenants of a healthy diet -- is that complete protein is usually present when you eat grass grains and legume seeds in the same meal.

Over and over again across the globe, different civilizations discovered this fact, and early on domesticated different legumes out of their local environment.  Because this domestication extends back to the dawn of civilization, it should not be surprising that the words associated with these crops are also of long use.  For instance, by linguistic comparison of the various words for ‘bean’ suggest it originated from the Proto-Indo-European noun for ‘woman’.  This root was then  applied to any large edible legume seed, and eventually morphed into bean (English), boon (Dutch), Bohne (German), bønne (Danish), baun (Icelandic), ben (Irish), bein (Scottish), bob (Russian), phasóli (Greek), faba (Latin), or lobi (Armenian).  Smaller legumes were eventually given other names, with intermediate-sized seeds generally being called ‘peas’ (from the Greek “pison” and Latin “pisum”) and the smallest being called ‘lentils’ (from the Greek “lathyros”, Latin “lenticula”, and Old German “linse”). 

The ancient history of these words means that as new crops appeared in a given area through trade, pre-existing names were often used to describe these new crops, even though they were not closely related to the initial named plants.  As a result, the words “bean”, “pea”, and “lentil” now represent a hodgepodge of little biological value. 

One easy way to navigate these rough biological and linguistic shoals is to consider these various legumes through their history.  The earliest legumes were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent and Middle East from wild ancestors living in rocky grasslands and riversides, and include:

  • Lens culinaris (Lentil) may be the first domesticated legume extending back to at least 9500 years ago, and possibly into the late Ice Age.  It spread east into India, where it is called Masoor Dal and is one of the principle pulses used in cooking.  It also spread west into the Mediterranean basin, and ultimately throughout the world. 
  • Vivia faba (Broad Bean /Fava Bean) was perhaps domesticated as early as 9000 years ago.  Like peas, Broad Beans are able to mature in short, cool summers and thus became a principle crop for northern cultures.  This species has a tough, indigestible seed coat that must be removed prior to eating.  The use of ‘bean’ in any pre-Columbian old world text is referencing this plant, not the Common Bean of the New World. 
  • Cicer arietinum (Chickpea or Garbanzo) was domesticated around 7500 years ago.  This crop spread east into India (where it became one of the major pulse crops) and west into North Africa and western Eurasia, and then around the globe.  There are two major forms:  the large, pale seeded Kabuli, which is the most typically seen form in the west; and the small, brown Desi which has a much tougher seed coat.  In India their seeds are hulled and split to make Chana Dal. 
  • Pisum sativum (Pea) was also first domesticated around 7500 years ago.  For most of human history, ‘peas’ referred to dry, starchy soup peas.  These became a staple crop of northern countries that did not have long and hot enough summers to allow harvest of Chickpeas, Lentils and Broad Beans.  It was not until the Renaissance that sweet, non-starchy green peas for fresh consumption were bred. 

The legumes domesticated in Asia include: 

  • Vigna angularis (Azuki Bean) was domesticated in Japan around 6000 years ago from wild ancestors living along rivers.  This small red bean is usually cooked into a sweetened paste which is then used as a filling in deserts.   
  • Vigna radiata (Mung Bean or Green Gram) was domesticated in the Mongolian steppes and spread into India by 4500 years ago.  From there it was traded across southeastern Asia.  The small beans are not only cooked, being one of the principle pulses used in dals, but also sprouted in many southeastern Asian cuisines.
  • Vigna mungo (Urad or Black Gram) was domesticated in about 4500 years ago from wild plants living in the savannas of southern India.  It is largely used whole or split to make dal, where it adds a slimy texture, and is ground to make dosas, idlis, and papadums.
  • Cajanus cajan (Pigeon Pea) was domesticated about 3500 years ago from wild plants living in the dry tropical forest of eastern India.  It spread from India into eastern and then western tropical Africa, and then via the slave trade to the Caribbean.  In India it is referred as Toor Dal, and is one of the most popular pulses.  It makes up the ‘peas’ in the famous ‘peas and rice’ of Jamaica.
  • Glycine max (Soybean) was domesticated in eastern northern China only 3100 years ago.  It has since become the principle source of vegetable protein throughout eastern Asia.  However, in its raw state the proteins are not easily digestible.  Soy-based Asian cuisines have found a number of methods to make soy easier on the digestive system, including the making of soy milk, tofu, and fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh.  Some varieties have also been bred for their immature, green seeds, known in Japan as edamame. 

The one major legume domesticated in Africa was: 

  • Vigna unguiculata (Cow Pea / Crowder Pea / Field Pea) which was bred about 5000 years ago from wild plants living in west African savannas.  From there it spread across the dry-tropics of central Africa and then to India and southeast Asia.  During the slave trade it was also transported to the New World, where it became an important crop in the plantations of the southern USA, Caribbean, central America, and northern South America.  Cow Peas are among the most drought and heat-tolerant legumes, and are able to produce high yields in even poor soils.  Not only are the dried beans used in cooking, but so are the unripe green pods which are used extensively as ‘yard-long beans’ in southeast Asia. 

Four major legume crops were domesticated in the New World, and were unknown in Europe and Asia until after the voyages of Columbus: 

  • Phaseolus vulgaris (Common Bean) was domesticated around 4500 years ago in central America and the Andes from wild plants of the lowland dry tropics.  It was quickly adapted by Old World cultures as it was easier to grow, more productive, and easier to cook than Broad Beans.  It is now an essential component of cuisines ranging from India across the Middle East into the Mediterranean Basin and northwestern Europe.  Of course, common bean pods are also picked immature as a green vegetable.  Confusingly, the entire pod is usually referred to as a green ‘bean’, although technically the word ‘bean’ should be limited to only the seeds inside the pod. 
  • Phaseolus lunatus (Lima Beans) was domesticated about 4000 years ago in the northern Andes, and independently 1200 years ago in Mexico from wild lowland dry topics plants.  They are used much like Common Beans, but the freshly shucked seeds (often referred to as ‘Butter Beans’ in the southern USA) are also often cooked alone or with other vegetables in stews. 
  • Phaseolus acutifolius (Tepary Bean) was domesticated in the deserts of northern Mexico about 3500 years.  It is one of the most drought-tolerant crop plants.  These small beans are cooked in the same way as dry common beans. 
  • Phaseolus coccineus (Runner Bean) represents the most recent legume domestication, having been selected from wild ancestors in the Mexican Highlands only 1000 years ago.  It has since spread across the globe, and is an important component of both Greek and Iraqi cuisine.  This crop is grown not only for its large dry seeds, but also immature pods which can serve as a green bean.  The starchy roots may also be eaten.

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Cuban Black Beans


Black beans are the soul of the Cuban and Yucatan cuisines.  We’ve already presented a recipe featuring a Mexican recipe in the Amaranth entries, but have decided to share a Cuban-inspired version as well because of how utterly different these two dishes are.  The following is a vegetarian adaptation of a black bean recipe presented in Norman Van Aken’s New World Cuisine (ISBN 0679432027).  Note that the recipe uses a sofrito of ten different vegetables and spices that are sautéed together to make a rich sauce within which the beans are ultimately cooked.  The beans are also cooked with sherry and sherry vinegar; don’t leave these out.  If you can’t find sherry vinegar, you can try rice or wine vinegar, but the depth of flavor will not be quite the same.  

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1 ancho chili, diced small
1 red onion, diced small
2 large stalks celery, diced small
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and diced small
1 tablespoon cumin, roasted and ground
1 tablespoon black pepper, roasted and ground
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
2 teaspoons cayenne
½ cup sherry vinegar
2 cups sherry
2 cups dry back beans, cooked until tender
3 cups vegetable stock
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and butter.  When the butter is melted and begins to foam, stir in garlic and jalapenos.  Cook for a minute. 

Turn up heat to medium-high and add in bell pepper, red onion, celery, carrot, fennel and sauté until the vegetables are caramelized.  Stir in cumin, black pepper, bay, and liquid smoke.  

Transfer mixture to a 3 quart pot.  Stir in cayenne, vinegar, and sherry, cooked beans, and stock.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce is reduced and thickened.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.   Serve warm over rice.


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Ethiopian Vegetables (Yataklete Kilkil)


This simple yet very tasty mildly spiced dish is a wonderful accompaniment to the more strongly flavored ones in this meal.  While we like the combination of potatoes, carrots, and green beans as the main vegetables in this medley, consider using whatever fresh produce is available from your garden.  Other possible tasty options include cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, turnip, broad beans, sweet bell peppers, sweet potato or squash.  Again, it is easy to make this vegan by substituting flavored vegetable oil for the spiced butter.  Makes at least 10 cups.

8 waxy red potatoes, washed and cut into 2”dice
3 large carrots, peeled, cut into quarters and then into 2” lengths
¼ cup spiced butter
2 medium red onions, sliced in half and then into ½” wide strips
2 mild green chilies, seeded and cut into ½x2” wide strips
3 fresh hot green chilies, stemmed, de-seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger paste
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ pound green beans, stemmed, and cut into 2” lengths
6 green onions, cut into 2” lengths

Blanch potatoes and carrots in boiling water for 5 minutes until they are almost tender.  Place immediately into a basin of cold water to stop cooking.  Let sit for 3-4 minutes, and then drain.

In a 4-5 quart casserole melt spiced butter over medium heat.  Add in onion and chilies sauté until the onions are transparent.  Add in ginger, garlic, salt and pepper and stir fry with the onions and chilies for another minute or two. 

Now add in the green beans, green onions, and precooked potatoes and carrots.  Stir so that all the vegetables are lightly coated in oil. 

Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes until the vegetables are firm but tender.


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Greek Green Bean Salad


This is a drop-dead easy and amazingly tasty green bean salad from Clifford Wright’s Mediterranean Vegetables.  As is characteristic of Greek food, this dish is seasoned with dill, garlic and feta cheese, and is dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.  If you can find real sheep milk feta, you’ll be much happier with the result. 

1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon dill leaf, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook green beans in boiling water for 10-15 minutes until they are tender.  Drain.

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dill, salt & pepper, and toss with green beans and feta.


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Miso Soup & Green Beans with Miso Dressing


We finish our exploration of soyfoods with two simple Japanese recipes using miso.  First we'll make a tasty vegan version of the iconic miso soup that almost everyone in Japan eats at least once a day.  In it we'll not only use our home-made miso but our home-made tofu as well.  This soup is infinately variable and can be changed to fit whatever fresh, seasonal ingredients you may have on hand -- remember that there are Japanese cookbooks that provide recipes for a different miso soup for every day of the year.  Be adventureous!

Shitake and Tofu Miso Soup

6 dry shitake mushrooms
4 oz home-made tofu
4 cups shitake dashi
1/3 cup miso
¼ cup slivered Japanese leeks
1 tsp sesame oil
salt to taste

Soak shitake in hot water for 30 minutes or until soft.  Drain and reserve water for shitake dashi; slice shitake into 1/8” wide slices.  Cut tofu into ¾” cubes.  Make shitake dashi.


Bring dashi to a simmer.  Add in sliced shitake and tofu.  Reduce heat so that it is at a low simmer and mix in the miso.  Make sure that the broth does not boil.  Add in the slivered leeks and sesame oil.  Serve hot. 

Last, here's a very simple green-bean sunomono that takes only a minute or two to assemble.

Green Beans with Vinegared Miso Dressing


3 tablespoons miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb green beans

Mix together miso, vinegar, sugar, and garlic in a small saucepan and gently heat while stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the garlic well mixed into the sauce.  Blanch or steam the green beans until bright green but still crisp.  Cool under running water, drain, and dress with the miso sauce.  Serve at room temperature.


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String Beans with Herb Sauce – Bohnen mit Sosse


(from the Fall 2014 Heirloom Gardener)

String beans were one of the most intensively grown crops in Amana Colonies kitchen gardens. Both green and yellow varieties were grown, with the yellow being the only type used for Katerbohen -- Pickled Dill Beans. However they were also used for fresh eating. Here both colors are steamed tender and served with a simple but tasty herbed tomato sauce

3/4 pound green beans
3/4 pound yellow beans
2 tablespoons minced green bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced celery
¼ cup minced onion
¼ cup Canola oil
2 pounds tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry marjoram

Steam beans until tender.

Saute pepper, celery, onion in oil for 5 minutes. Add tomato, vinegar, garlic, salt, black pepper, and marjoram. Simmer another 10 minutes. Pour over beans. Serves 6.


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White Bean Salad


As you are no doubt seeing with these tapas recipes, Spanish cooking represents a wonderful fusion of traditional European, Middle-Eastern, and New World techniques and ingredients.  This should be not at all surprising given that much of Spain was variously controlled over the last two millennia by Rome, then Charlemagne, and then Moors from the Maghreb before Spanish kingdoms eventually took control of the Iberian Peninsula.  Spanish ports were also the first places in which the bounty of New World agriculturalists spread across Europe.  

The following bean salad is an excellent example of this process.  Bean salads themselves have been part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years, although before New World traced commenced these would have been limited to various chickpeas, peas, lentils, horse beans and broad beans.  An excellent example of this is the bean salad described in last month’s iftar meal, although even this recipe has been influenced by New World agriculture as is shown by its inclusion of tomato.  The common bean of the New World (Phaseolus vulgaris) was one of the first of the New World domesticates to be accepted into the European diet, as it provided the nutrition and cooking qualities of the broad bean (fava bean) without requiring removal of the tough, inedible skins and did not contain potentially fatal alkaloids like vicine or convicine.  In the following recipe cannelloni beans are used, which are a white bean commonly used in Italy.  However, this New World crop is treated in a very European fashion being mixed with celery, gherkin and chives and dressed in a garlicky mustard vinaigrette.  

½ pound dry cannelloni beans
¾ cup olive oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/8 teaspoon sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 gherkin, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chives, cut into ½-inch lengths

Pick over beans to remove any stones or other foreign material.  Soak in water over night.  Drain beans, place into pot, cover with water, and heat to boiling.  Simmer for 1- 1½ hours until beans are just cooked.  Drain, rinse with cool water, and drain again.

Whisk olive oil, vinegar, crushed garlic, minced parsley, mustard, sugar in a bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Mix together the cooked beans, celery, and gherkin in a bowl.  Toss with the vinaigrette and top with the chopped chives.  Serve at room temperature.

This dish will taste much better if allowed to sit overnight to allow the various flavors to meld.  Also, while you can make this using canned cannelloni beans, we recommend strongly that you search out dry beans to cook up as the canned beans to us taste much of their can.

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